If you are wondering if budget breaks mean roughing it out or visiting uninteresting places, these places across West Bengal, easily accessible from Kolkata, will prove you wrong. Enjoy clean no-frills places to stay, scenic views, explore-worthy sights without digging deep into your pockets.
A backpackers’ camp, Doladanga is a relatively unknown budget destination from Kolkata. Located on the lake formed when a dam was built over the Kangsabati River, the camping site backs into a deer park. If you are quiet enough, it is not unusual to find a spotted deer or two straying into the campsite by day. Relax by the lakeside or read a book tucked away in a hammock in the shade of the forest. Go on a sunset to moonrise boating in the lake. Or go for a guided night walk in the forest. The trail is thrilling but safe assure the camp operators. You may also request for a camp fire if you are a group travelling together. A Kolkata-based group operates the campsite, partly to provide budget breaks to urban travellers and partly to provide gainful employment to local villagers. There are four no-frills but comfortable mud cottages and plenty of space to pitch your own tent if you so desire. However, advance booking is must.
There are several routes to reach this backpackers’ camp. If you want to travel on a budget, take a Mukutmanipur bound bus from Kolkata. From Mukutmanipur, the ferry going to the deer park will drop you at a point from where the campsite is a two kilometre walk or cycle-van ride. If you are travelling by car, follow the Kolkata-Bankura (170km)-Manbazar (60km)-Doladanga Camp (12km) route. Car parking is not a problem but check about driver accommodation.
A popular destination for rock climbing practice, the hills in Purulia district have now emerged as a budget break from Kolkata with hotels and improved motorable roads. A corner of the Ajodhya hill (named after a local landlord) rises to a flat top where you will hotels and restaurants. Spend your time exploring the hilly springs such as Bamni and Turga (short treks are necessary to reach the base of the waterfalls), enjoying lake views at Durga Bera (Marble Lake), Khaira Bera or Murguma, or visiting historical sites such as Deulghata (ruins of centuries old temples with stucco decoration). Charida village at the base of the hill is home to families who make masks for Chhau dance. They also make smaller versions of the masks to be used as interior decorations.
Ajodhya Pahar is connected to Kolkata by road and rail. The early morning Rupashi Bangla Express train terminates at Purulia town, from where you have to travel onward (nearly 40km) by road. There are also overnight trains. By road from Kolkata, it takes around seven hours.
Easy access and hotels to suit every pocket makes the beach town of Digha the most popular weekend getaway from Kolkata. Although several beach resorts have come up along the Bay of Bengal coast of the state, none have been able to dent the popularity of Digha. The old beach, being subject to coastal erosion, has a protective line of boulders, which makes bathing in the sea here difficult. But move south to New Digha and you will enjoy a dip in the blue sea. A paved raised path runs along the length of the beach, and is good for a stroll. Other attractions include the Amarabati Park with its toy train, aerial gondola and boating facilities, Digha Science Centre, Marine Aquarium and Digha Eco Tourism Centre. You may also pay a visit to any of the nearby beaches, such as Shankarpur, Mandamoni, Tajpur, etc. Digha is located very near the West Bengal-Odisha border. You may cover Chandaneswar Shiva Temple and Talasari Beach, both across the border, on a day visit.
It takes around three to four hours by train and less than five hours by road to reach Digha from Kolkata.
Not from West Bengal’s border with Assam is Cooch Behar, a former royal kingdom, the parental home of the late Maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur. In their heydays, the royal family of Cooch Behar were patrons of art, culture and education. Although the look of the town has changed over the years, there are temples and buildings that reflect some of the earlier grandeur. Begin with the 19th century Royal Palace reflecting the Italian Renaissance style, a part of which has now been converted to a museum. The palace is illuminated at night. Other attractions include temples such as Madan Mohan Bari and Debi Bari, the sprawling lake called Sagar Dighi and the heritage buildings, now housing different administrative departments, schools and hospitals.
Cooch Behar town is connected to Kolkata by road and rail. Depending on the train, it takes 13 to 15 hours to reach from Kolkata. By road, Cooch Behar is almost 700km from Kolkata and about 100km from Jalpaiguri.